Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their sixth assessment report of the global climate. The news is not good.
Human kind must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and fast, to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, according to the report. On tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the derecho, Iowa’s latest extreme weather event, the Hawkeye State should pay attention to what scientists have to say. So should we all.
Climate change is affecting every region on earth, in multiple ways.
Increases in drought with continued increases going forward.
Projected increase in extreme precipitation.
Projected increase in river and pluvial flooding.
Projected increases in winter precipitation.
There is a lot of information in the report and rather than summarize it here, I’ll direct readers to the report itself. There are summaries and a wealth of information. It can be viewed and downloaded at this link: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
“If we reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, we can keep temperatures close to 1.5C,” wrote Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of the IPCC. Achieving that would help prevent climate change’s worst effects.
Nothing better illustrates what’s at stake in mitigating the worst effects of climate change than the debate between eliminating internal combustion cars, trucks and SUVs, and Iowa’s corn ethanol business which produces automotive fuel. Simply put, we must curtail greenhouse gas emissions to avert the worst effects of global warming. That means reducing, then eliminating, internal combustion engines in automotive transportation.
Last week’s events brought the debate into focus.
On Thursday, Aug. 5, President Biden signed an executive order intended to strengthen America’s leadership in clean cars and trucks. Biden set a goal “that 50 percent of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.” Biden also addressed tightening emissions standards, improving fuel economy, and fuel efficiency and emissions reductions for heavy duty trucks. If acted on, this executive order is a substantial government effort to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on American roads, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The folks at The Climate Reality Project reflect my view, “Now we are moving in the right direction.”
Not so fast, said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, whose state devotes significant corn acreage to producing ethanol for automotive use. She apparently heard this executive order was coming and had the following statement ready to go the same afternoon.
President Biden’s short-sighted stance on electric vehicles is undermining Iowa’s renewable fuel industry while simultaneously jeopardizing America’s energy independence. This announcement follows the Biden Administration’s failure to support renewable fuels in the infrastructure package currently being negotiated in Congress. It’s a harmful pattern that must be reversed.
With the policies we see coming out of Washington, it’s never been more important that Iowa fights for renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel while looking for new ways to invest in the high-quality products we produce right here, right now in our state.
Press release from the Office of the Iowa Governor via email, Aug. 5, 2021.
I couldn’t disagree more with Governor Reynolds. 53 percent of Iowa’s corn crop goes to ethanol production, according to Iowa Corn. A third of that makes a livestock feed co-product and the rest into ethanol fuel. One did not need to be a psychic to predict farmers were not going to like it when passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks all go electric, likely in my lifetime. The better action for the governor–than propping up the internal combustion engine in automobiles and light trucks–is determining the future use of those corn acres once ethanol is no longer needed as a fuel.
Either we have the political will to address the climate crisis or we don’t. It seems clear President Biden is willing to take bold action to address global warming, as evidenced by his direction on electrifying cars and light trucks. While some in the environmental movement say he is not bold enough, last week’s executive order would never have been signed by a Republican president. Governor Reynolds’ pushback was predictable and an argument for maintaining a status quo that has not been good for Iowa in terms of soil depletion, air quality, water quality, crop diversity, and economic and environmental sustainability.
As this plays out in coming weeks and months, the dynamic between the White House and Iowa’s Republican governor will be important to watch. What shall we do to address the climate crisis? According to President Biden we can and must do something. Moving toward electric transportation vehicles is a positive step, even though farmers will have to adjust. We have to do more to address the climate crisis.
Despite the debate and inevitable conflict, the country has to adjust to our future needs. The debate between government and farmers is not new. It has never been more important as the future livability of our planet is at stake. It’s now or never on climate.
“Earlier this year, the European Union was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history,” wrote Majlie de Puy Kamp for CNN.
The European Union pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and approved burning biomass as an alternative to coal, categorizing it as a renewable fuel. They found wood pellets were a suitable, renewable fuel to produce electricity and searched the globe for enough of them.
“The American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports,” de Puy Kamp wrote.
Enter companies like Enviva, the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, with four wood pellet manufacturing plants in North Carolina.
The world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explicitly recognizes bioenergy as a renewable energy source that is critical to our low-carbon future. The IPCC also concludes that sustainable forest management is critical to prevent forest conversion to non-forest uses.
We need bioenergy both to replace fossil fuels and to keep forests as forests.
The IPCC states in its guidelines “do not automatically consider or assume biomass used for energy as ‘carbon neutral,’ even in cases where the biomass is thought to be produced sustainably.”
As I wrote in 2015, while the carbon cycle of renewable fuels can eliminate putting fossilized carbon into the atmosphere, and reduces emissions of particulate matter, the amount of CO2 released when burning biomass is about the same as with burning coal. What makes burning wood pellets and other biomass “sustainable” is we would leave more fossilized carbon in the ground.
Burning stuff to release energy that is made into electricity remains problematic in terms of emissions. While windmills, solar panels and hydroelectric generators are not without issues, these forms of electricity generation better serve our future energy needs as we work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As we contemplate the EU’s path to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, there is another issue that gets lost. The quest for wood pellets has greater impact on marginalized communities near forests that are being harvested for fuel. Read de Puy Kamp’s article for more information about these climate justice issues.
“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” said William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University.
While the EU may meet an arbitrary goal of reducing its carbon footprint, by using wood pellets to generate electricity the achievement is more paperwork drill than actual reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.
Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.
Catholic activist sentenced for Dakota Access Pipeline vandalism by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy at NCROnline.com. To read the rest of the article, click here.
Reznicek’s criminal penalties were substantial. In addition to jail time, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger included $3,198,512.70 in restitution and three years’ post-prison supervised release after she plead guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility, according to Common Dreams. It’s hard to argue her protest was intended to be non-violent. She used an oxyacetylene torch to damage the pipeline without knowing if fuel was in transit.
Reznicek is being prosecuted as a terrorist. Is that what she is? It seems unlikely the board of directors or billionaire Kelcey Warren of Energy Transfer Partners felt terrorized. They had reason to know there would be protests during construction, and likely built defense from them into their operating, overhead, and risk management budgets. For ETP, pipeline protests represented business as usual. In 2018 there was a “protect the protests” direct action in Dallas, Texas where demonstrators accused ETP at its corporate headquarters of attempting to silence them with lawsuits.
Like many in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community Reznicek has been willing to break the law in peaceful protest and has been arrested. In 2014, she was detained for nearly 48 hours and then deported after flying into Israel to support Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the Des Moines Register. It seems obvious the Iowa Legislature had people like Reznicek in mind when they recently increased penalties for protesters.
I received the first of a series of emails from Reznicek during the Occupy Movement in 2011. She was an organizer for Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy the Caucus, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy the World Food Prize, and other direct action protests. She was arrested at some of these protests. It seemed like boilerplate organizing. Whatever cache the Occupy movement may have had, the work she did was straight forward with transparency. It was not a terrorist plot the way in 1995 Timothy McVeigh plotted to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It would be better for the peace and justice movement if Reznicek did not have to spend her time serving time and defending herself in this prominent case. It goes with the territory, though.
The answer is no. Jessica Reznicek is not a terrorist. Society needs more people like her to call attention to injustice. If there is a cost to her protests, she has been willing to accept responsibility. If asked, my neighbors would say justice was served with Reznicek’s prosecution and sentencing. As it plays out in the judicial system, some of us wonder who will step in to fill her shoes in the peace and justice movement. It may be someone, but it won’t be her for a while.
I met Finn Harries at the May 2015 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He and his identical twin brother Jack had turned their attention, and that of their large YouTube following, to work on the climate crisis.
In July 2020, a group including Finn, Jack and Alice Aedy formed Earthrise Studio to produce work related to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. It is “a way of combining their shared interests in film making, photography and design,” according to the website. It operates as a full service creative studio with a dedicated team of designers, filmmakers, and writers addressing the climate crisis in their work.
In March I wrote my U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst about the climate crisis as follows:
I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Senate. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.
During a recent conference call with Ernst and a group of environmental activists, she touted her support for the then upcoming vote on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the first bill to specifically address climate change since Biden was sworn in. Grassley and Ernst joined the 92-8 Senate majority to pass the bill on June 24. (Booker, Hawley, Inhofe, Lee, Markey, Merkley, Sanders and Warren were nays). Storm Lake journalist Art Cullen opined in the Washington Post, “Ignore the chatter. Stuff is getting done. And both parties are helping.“
After familiarizing myself with the bill, I can only ask of the legislators, “What else you got?”
Below are the Iowa senators’ unedited responses to my query. Grassley’s is first because he is our senior senator. Ernst replied first. I’m glad to hear from our elected representatives.
April 14, 2021 Dear Mr. Deaton:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about the environment. As your senator, it is important to me that I hear from you.
I appreciate hearing your concerns about climate change. In contacting me, you shared your support for climate-related legislation. While I believe a changing climate is a historical and scientific fact, I also recognize that most scientists say man-made emissions contribute to these changes. With that being said, it is just common sense to promote the development of clean forms of energy. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have been a leader in promoting alternative and renewable energy sources as a way of protecting the environment and increasing our energy independence. I’ve been an advocate of various forms, including wind, biomass, agriculture wastes, ethanol and biodiesel.
I’m proud to let you know that Iowa has had much success in renewable fuels and wind energy production. As the number one producer of corn, ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, Iowa has the opportunity to lead our nation’s renewable fuels industry. This cleaner-burning, homegrown energy supports the economy by generating 47,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion of Iowa’s GDP. In 2018, Iowa produced 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol. In regards to environmental benefits, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent compared to conventional gasoline.
Iowa’s wind industry ranks second in the nation behind Texas. Wind energy supports over 9,000 jobs in Iowa alone and provides 40 percent of the state’s electricity. As the “father” of the Wind Energy Incentives Act of 1993, I sought to give this alternative energy source the ability to compete against traditional, finite energy sources. Like ethanol and other advanced biofuels, wind energy is renewable and does not obligate the United States to rely on unstable foreign states.
The most effective action Congress can take to address this issue is to advance policies that increase the availability and affordability of alternative and renewable energy sources. If alternative energy sources can become more competitive, market forces will drive a natural, low-cost transition in our energy mix that will be a win-win for American families. I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate considers related legislation in the future.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing your concerns and encourage you to keep in touch. Sincerely,
Chuck Grassley United States Senate
March 25, 2021 Dear Mr. Deaton,
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the issue of climate change. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this.
As you may know, on January 21, 2015, during the Keystone XL Pipeline debate, I voted in support of S.A. 29, an amendment offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that acknowledged the existence of climate change. I do believe that the climate is changing, however, the science surrounding climate change continues to develop, and additional, objective research needs to be done to conclusively identify the root causes. Our climate is experiencing a period of changing temperatures, but it is important to note that not all scientists agree on the cause.
I believe that government can take reasonable and concrete steps to protect and improve the environment. This includes encouraging the utilization of a diverse mix of energy resources and improving energy efficiency. We can also make personal choices that have a positive impact on the environment—I am a committed recycler.
I support an all of the above energy approach that increases America’s energy independence and domestic production. Iowa is a national leader in alternative energy sources. As a result, nearly 40% of electricity generated in our state is by wind. I believe America can responsibly take advantage of our nation’s abundant resources while also emphasizing conservation and efficiency.
We all care about clean water and clean air, but any efforts to reduce pollution must be done in a thoughtful manner that involves the communities, businesses, and families that will be most affected by changes to rules and regulations. Climate change is an international issue, not one limited to the United States. Any policies designed to mitigate the effects of climate change should take into consideration the impact they will have on American consumers and also on our businesses and their ability to compete globally and create jobs.
Please know that I will continue to keep your views in mind as the Senate works on this issue. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans. Sincerely,
What can we do when confronted with the climate crisis? The answer is everything. If climate change is developing faster than human solutions, what then?
During the last few months we have been assaulted with news about the climate crisis getting worse. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built, threatening downstream communities with loss of needed water. People are dropping dead on the street in the Pacific Northwest which is experiencing record high temperatures. President Biden called a White House meeting with Republican and Democratic Western Governors about the continued heat wave and wild fires it caused. Above the Arctic Circle in Siberia, ground temperatures approach 120 degrees, melting the permafrost. 2020 was the hottest year in recorded history for Antarctica, causing a record 1,600 square mile iceberg to calve off the Ronne ice shelf into the Weddell Sea. Drought continues in Iowa, the worst in 20 years. This is what I mean by being assaulted.
Professor Julia K. Steinberger offers a toolkit for would-be climate activists in info graphic format here. It is pretty cool and accessible. It offers things a person can do to address the climate crisis. It is something, not everything. It is not enough.
The next step in taking effective action to address global climate change is to understand where we are. According to Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, we’re not in a good place.
“The earth won’t simply keel over and die like a human being might, but it is now changing in substantial ways in real time,” McKibben wrote. “If you’re used to thinking that the earth changes in the course of geological epochs, and that fundamental shifts require thousands or millions of years, think again.”
“The speed with which this happens is remarkable,” he said. “And it is dramatically outpacing the speed at which humans—our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets—seem able to adapt.”
While we need to do everything possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, the longest, most complicated journey begins with a single step. Click on the links in this post. Read the articles. Discuss them with friends. Figure out how you can contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.
I walked in the Coralville Fourth of July parade with two different groups: the first half with the Johnson County Democrats, and the rest with The People’s Coalition for Social, Economic & Environmental Justice. It was the first post COVID-19 vaccine social event I attended with people I know.
Regulars from previous years were missing, notably the World War Two veterans from Veterans for Peace, but also many my age or older. My cohort is stepping back from parade walking, even though there was a trailer with straw bales for anyone who wanted to sit during the two-mile route. Ambient temperatures reached the high eighties, so it was probably best for septuagenarians and older to stay indoors.
The community was out in force. Coralville is diverse and much different from the rest of Iowa. I enjoy the informal socialization that is part of walking in a parade.
It is positive the Democrats are transitioning to younger people. State Senator Zach Wahls will turn 30 in a few days, and State Rep. Christina Bohannan just turned 50. State Rep. Dave Jacoby was the oldest of the state legislators present at 65. The contingent was made of about half elected officials and half local political activists. Our presence was less than it has been during general election years.
The People’s Coalition is comprised of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, PEACE Iowa, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, and other peace and justice friends. A characteristic of our local activities is collaboration when working on projects. I’ve been with Physicians for Social Responsibility since I was on the board of health, served on the board of PEACE Iowa, and am a charter member of our Veterans for Peace chapter. It was good to catch up with old timers like myself.
I received many compliments for the t-shirt I wore. I bought it from J.C. Penney for pride month yet didn’t attend any public events at which to wear it. The messaging, “love is love,” was very popular at the parade. People said, “I like your t-shirt,” multiple dozens of times. I said thank you when I could and Happy 4th of July. Someone shouted out, “go gay people!” I’m not sure what the sincere statement of support meant but acknowledged it.
It’s hard to say if I will attend future parades. I made it through yesterday and it was enjoyable. As long as that’s the case there is a reason to participate.
The garden did not need watering last night. This morning, after sunrise, the ground was still wet. Thunderstorms and rain are forecast all day, so it looks good for the garden getting plenty of moisture. We need rain.
Wednesday was a punk day of running existential errands. I’m preparing for a special project that will have me mostly off the internet for a while. We need that from time to time.
While I’m gone, I leave you with this image of the full moon setting behind the trees. I don’t know what it means but I could look at the moon for hours. The picture is no substitute, yet with it, maybe we’ll get by.